Interview with Katie Bonadies
Pictured: Holden Willard. Image courtesy of the artist.
Holden is a painter working mainly in oils. He has been at RWS since July 2022. Though Holden paints portraits and landscapes that are mostly figurative, the figures are not always the point, “I try to get to a point where the whole image is analogous; where all parts of the image are worked up at the same amount, where there’s no interest on the figure.” Holden will often work from a compilation of photographs that he has taken. He works this way because he appreciates photography’s power to capture quick moments from which he can immediately sit down and draw and interpret and completely change if he wants to. Holden always sits down to paint with an intention for the image he’s going to create. That doesn’t mean that he’s planned out every aspect of a painting; he’ll often play around with symbols or implements that he adds and erases with a rag, evaluating them in an effort to see what sticks. The result is much more harmonious and felt, where the viewer is able to see the artist's mind at work.
The Gilded Age. 50"x38". Oil on canvas. 2022. Matt. 11"x8". Oil on canvas. 2022. Mother and Child. 16"x12".
None of Holden’s paintings are direct portraits because none are actual representations of the subject; they are bent and twisted through color and Holden’s drawing so that they transform into something else. In his work, Holden is looking to capture a feeling of how we interpret memory in our dreams and his paintings are narratives about experiences like coming of age or longing and loss.
He tells these stories through color. He understands that in portraiture focus on the figure is inescapable, so he achieves a level picture plane by putting color down and then drawing figure(s) over it so that color is not restricted by form. The painting A Sweet Memory of Rain (Quinn’s Heart) is an example of this, blending the human figure with the forms around them. In the painting an almost indecipherable subject lays across a couch. Both objects are painted in hot pink and bright red and contrasted with aqua and cobalt and yellows. The painting is influenced by the painting Give Me Love by contemporary figurative painter Doron Langberg wherein the figure becomes a part of the space. “A lot of my work is about placing the figures and making them a part of their environments instead of them being a separate part. I like to break color with line.”
Line is an important device in Holden’s work that he says comes through a lot of trial and error and drawing. The subject in A Sweet Memory of Rain (Quinn’s Heart) stares across the canvas at something out of the viewer’s sight. Playing with the subject’s gaze is an intentional device Holden uses to create a feeling in the viewer. A self-portrait titled The Gilded Age, a painting predominantly painted in greens and ochres, is a representation of the artist in which he stares directly at the viewer, subverting the experience of the work.
The Way Things Change. 60"x48". Oil on canvas. 2022. Megan (A Mothers Love). 38"x38". Oil on linen. 2022.
Holden was born to paint and he is lucky to have recognized this drive early on, “There is no second guessing for me; this is the only path forward. I love painting. It is what drives me and keeps me awake at night and brings me the most happiness.” For him, painting is about the emotions you feel as a result of seeing the colors interact with each other. He went to art school painting intuitively and now that he’s studied painting he has the understanding of how color fits into that structure he sought.
He studied with colorist painters Timothy Harney, Diane Ayott, and Nicholas Mancini at Montserrat College of Art. Both Harney and Mancini work within the figure in the way that Holden describes where the figure is not an important element. He learned that it can be even more interesting to take the figure out. Some of Holden’s images have no figure, which he says a lot of people don’t like. He’s interested in playing with flowers, windows, or doors and how pairing them with people gives them new context.
His mentors also taught him the motive quality of color. The idea stems from the teachings of Hans Hoffman, developed through his drawing and painting technique that he named ‘The Search’. The aim is to tie together the whole of a painting in an analogous way through composition and color. Holden is inspired by the vibratory quality Hoffman achieved through his juxtaposition of color and composition. Many of Holden’s most recent paintings use bold contrasting colors; even when he chooses a more muted or monochromatic palette his use of color creates a luminescent energy that emanates from the heart of each painting.
A Sweet Memory of Rain. 87"x60". Oil on canvas. 2023.
Holden is fully aware that his paintings are a product of the teaching he received and he hopes the work changes over time, “Maybe color will stop being such a big thing for me as it is now, and that’s a good thing.” He hopes his paintings give viewers as many answers as questions. He hopes to get you looking again and again, finding new things each time, “At the end of the day it’s just paint on a canvas and I’m just moving it around. Do I really know what I’m doing? No. No one knows what they’re doing.” Holden is always discovering new things and questioning his choices. Holden’s work will be on view at Alice Gauvin Gallery starting April 6th. He was recently included in their Euphoria show that was curated by Rachel and Ryan Adams. He also has two paintings in the CMCA 2023 Biennial and paintings at Katzman Contemporary Projects in Dover, New Hampshire. More of his informal work is up at Local 188 and he currently has a couple of paintings at Mocean Skateboards. Contact Holden via his website, holdenwillard.com and through Instagram (@holdenwillard).